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JAKARTA - Every country has its myths, legends and folklore that embellish cultures and in many instances draw people together towards a mutual experience and understanding of life's lessons. Indonesia, it seems, has more than its fair share of these intriguing tales. All parts of the country, large or small, urban or rural, near or far, have tales often from times long past that form part of the culture. Some of these tales are more fanciful than others, featuring outlandish escapades and creatures from fantasy worlds but most, (if not all), have some message or lesson that is as relevant to our modern world as it was when the stories first occurred or were first invented.
In West Sumatra there are many such tales but traveling towards the small fishing village of Air Manis (Sweet Water), south of Padang, it is hard to believe that any such legends might have come to exist in this remote part. Traveling over round topped hills that are covered by dense vegetation there are few signs of human habitation. Occasionally through clearings in the vegetation the coastline can be glimpsed but here too there are few signs of the influences of humanity. The clear blue water washes up to Sumatra's untouched shorelines and sitting quietly just off the coast are tiny islands that are entirely covered by trees and other vegetation that suggests that humans rarely set foot on them.
But as you travel on toward Air Manis along undulating and bumpy roads that weave through the near jungle-like conditions more and more glimpses of the coast can be seen and the occasional fishing boat may be noticed bobbing on the surface of the calm crystal-clear waters. Gradually it will be noticed that there are many boats floating just offshore with lone fishermen casting their nets and as you descend down the hills this is a clear sign that you are closing in on the fishing village of Air Manis. Passing through the village it is apparent that this is a quite traditional little settlement. The houses are built in amongst a maze of trees that lead down to the coast. Rice and fish are laid out in the sun to dry and many of the houses are built entirely from natural materials standing on short wooden stilts, with timber walls, thatched roofs and no glazing in windows only shutters that are closed at night and opened again in the morning.
At the southern edge of the village is the beach. First, though, some swampy ground has to be passed that suggests that a legend here might involve a crocodile but soon there is sand beneath your feet and the trees part to reveal an attractive enclosed beach. A secluded tropical haven has been reached and it is here that a legend is said to have occurred. It is here that the legend of Malin Kundang is told and retold. All myths and legends are prone to different interpretations. Every person that tells and retells the tale is liable to add a little something for extra dramatic effect or forget to include some detail. That is human nature. But this is how an elderly resident of the village recounted Malin Kundang's story.
It seems that Malin Kundang was a restless soul and soon he felt that he had to leave his family in this idyllic tropical place to seek his fortune elsewhere. Restless though he was he did not forget his family and home and so soon after achieving success and gaining great fortune he sailed back homeward. But upon arrival home misfortune was to fall upon him, his fellow sailors and his family. Coming ashore at the beach at Air Manis Malin Kundang's mother rushed to meet her long lost son. But this son upon looking at his mother felt ashamed. Here he was a rich man wearing fine new clothing while his mother was looking ragged and poor as she was. In his undisguised disgust he ignored his mother, refused to greet her and returned to his ship. Of course, his mother was humiliated and heartbroken by her arrogant son's behavior. She fell to her knees in desperation and prayed to God asking that her son be punished for his cruel ways.
Soon a terrible storm rose up and Malin Kundang's ship was wrecked upon the rocks of one of the nearby islands. All but one of the people on the ship died in the wreck. Only Malin Kundang got away from the rocks as the sea picked him up and carried him towards his home. Exhausted and badly injured Malin Kundang tried to get ashore but as he crawled on his hands and knees he was suddenly turned to stone. Today a stony portion of Air Manis beach has a stone that from a certain angle resembles the figure of a man on his hands and knees his head seemingly buried in the rock. Thus, it is said, Malin Kundang has been forced to stay on the beach for all time, forever begging for forgiveness from his mother who he shamed so badly.
Around this rocky figure barrels and ropes have been carved into the stone to represent the shipwreck washed up on the shore. But today this beach is a tranquil place with nothing to suggest that the violence of a shipwreck could happen here or even near here. The sea gently rolls in onto the beach and when the tide goes out the nearest islands that sit just offshore can actually be walked to because the sandy beach reaches out to them. This means that, at the right time of day, the beach can be both quite long and wide. Overall, though, the beach at Air Manis remains pleasantly secluded. It sits in a protected alcove with trees closing it in on one side and the village and its trees on the other.
In the shade of some of these trees it is possible to sit, relax and appreciate the untouched tropical beauty of the seascape before you. Malin Kundang's sad story may teach of the folly and foibles of human beings but thankfully until now human beings have not disturbed the beauty and peace of this location with their foolhardy developments. True the village and the fishermen out in their boats are clear signs of human habitation but they are limited and acceptable as they only add to the idyllic character of this place. The tale of a family's woe makes Air Manis a legendary location and may offer a lesson in life. The natural beauty and restfulness of this place may be a lesson to the soul and lift the spirit. Combined -- the story and the sight of this beach add up to a contemplative destination -- a destination where one might consider one's own destiny.
Simon Marcus Gower

Posted in Politics @ 17 June 2001 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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